Thursday, August 10, 2023

Why Content Marketing Should Embrace AI

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about how I was using AI, still pretty much in its content marketing infancy, as a collaborative tool in my daily work. It might be a good time for an update. 

I’m writing this by hand, not using any AI input, but I am using AI spellchecker because, well, that just makes sense.
I genuinely believe that artificial intelligence isn’t just a tool, but a transformative force in content marketing. It offers unparalleled personalisation, enhances creativity, optimises distribution, and fosters data-driven decision-making. While there’s ethical considerations that undoubtedly need to be addressed (should I be sharing the by-line?) and a wider conversation to be had, the gains for me have been weapons-grade.

For content marketing professionals like myself, who seek continuous innovation and efficiency as part of the process, the integration of AI has a lot of benefits. Its power to revolutionise the way we approach marketing is not just promising; it's already here. And I use it daily.

Using AI Day to Day
Just about everything I’ve written at work since last November has had some level of AI collaboration, be it ideas, data, explanations from ChatGPT, or images and visuals from MidJourney. As I said in my early thoughts and finding on AI, I am not now and never will be, any kind of an aficionado of Artificial Intelligence (AI). I’ve found a level of usage, however, that suits the way I work and has put my productivity level through the roof. If there were KoolAid, I’ve drunk it.

Here's a few reasons why:
I can’t spell for Jack: Or punctuate, really. I get by pretty well and always have, but most of that is from practice and I don’t have an English degree. I’ve worked with journalists who have nothing but my deepest admiration. I don’t naturally write in US English, for starters. On the most basic level, AI tools (like Grammarly and Wordtune) are indispensable spelling and grammar checkers that can be tuned for brand voice and stop me rambling on with run-on sentences and comma splices. They do this in-line while I’m writing, across assorted applications, with zero friction. If we get one decent solar flare, I am so screwed.

Explaining concepts: Most content markets are biblical at trivia – especially those of us in an agency who flit from topic to topic. We have to write and create fresh ideas around everything from pet food to the socio-economic impact of retail robotics. Immersing myself in a topic is one thing, but I work in cybersecurity, and sometimes, working from home as I do, I need to ask someone to “explain, like you would to a graduate student, what are the core concepts behind user and entity behavior analytics” without (once again) hassling our product marketing manager in Teams. I don’t have time to wade through pages of weak Google results. Thank you, ChatGPT4.

Fresh ideas: Being creative on demand, daily, is what I do. Some days, at the risk of using the phrase “writer's block,” it’s not a natural state to be in. Sometimes I need some inspiration. AI is one of the options I turn to when I’m staring at my screen like a goldfish in a strobe light.

Above and beyond ChatGPT, which is my default for most things, platforms like ShortlyAIJasper, and others provide creative writing environments with useful prompts and suggestions. Websites like Reedsy offer writing prompt generators that can kickstart the creative process. If we have some programming skills, and it’s actually not rocket science, we can use AI models (including OpenAI) to create customised prompts based on our specific needs and interests. 

I recently wrote a whole other post on the creative content marketing process, including the use of AI, but tools like MindMeister or Lucidchart also allow us to create mind maps and visual prompts to help brainstorm and ideate.

Talking to the audience: I’m not the Chief Information Security Officer of a billion-dollar Fortune 500, but the CISO is the main target of the bulk of the output I produce these days. What do they actually care about that will be of genuine value to them? What are their concerns? What is the CISO community talking about? Much as I love them, this is the new Yahoo Answers (alas, no longer with us) and Quora

Using AI for inspiration, I recently crafted a post on “How can Busy CISOs Avoid Occupational Burn-Out?” Sure, it’s low-hanging fruit. It was, however, “syndicated” by Cloud Security Alliance, who published it to their site, giving us a ton of retweets from their share and some juicy PageRank from linking. This has happened more than once, because the professional cybersecurity community found real value in my writing.

Making it pretty: Back in the 80s, before I ventured into the world of film production and before the advent of the Internet, I studied graphic design at college. I can turn my hand to a reasonable infographic, airbrush a burnt-out car out of a corporate image (true story), and I’m something of a Photoshop veteran, but, MidJourney is now my go-to for basic imagery. Sure, there’s beautiful original art for free at Pixabay and Upsplash, and many a time I still make use of these invaluable assets, but I have deadlines and things to get done. While always enjoyable, I don’t have the capacity to wade through thousands of images that are “almost” right for the job – not when I can cut and paste a prompt I know will give me exactly the brand look and consistent style we use, add a few new words that reflect my copy, then spend two minutes in Photoshop to round off the edges and apply (in our case) a corporate duotone. And this for $15 less month than Shutterstock and with no limits on volume.

Just this week I’ve been dabbling with PikaLabs, to give our corporate Twitter pics some movement - because it’s our job to experiment. I also use MidJourney for ideas, like showing me graphical suggestions for infographics (using specific data) that I can then exploit in Illustrator. It’s not the whole process, far from it, but it’s a part of the process.
Analytics: AI’s not just useful for producing content, it’s also a godsend for analytics and decision-making. Statistics and data analysis leave me cold, but content is born of good data. Original data insights make bankable PR, and getting those insights is now a whole lot easier. Also, trend analysis affords inspiration. I have to give Tableau some props. It's great for anyone who wants to play with data and make it come alive visually, and I’m no tech wizard. It can handle complex calculations, mix different data together, and getting started with the free trial was a breeze. Again, I then add brand and other elements to the output, but it’s damn helpful for ideas and for pulling out the unseen. Being able to dump a load of web analytics onto OpenAI and ask it who our most engaged visitors are, then create me a few personas for those visitors, all within seconds, is useful, enlightening, and inspiring.

Saving time: Rolling all the above together, how much time do I save on a full production day? I’d estimate an hour, maybe two. What do I do with that time? More work. 

I can produce two 1200-word blog posts, or a blog post and solution brief, plus my other work, between 9-5. That’s probably an extra case study and an explainer script in a week – and good value content at that. Harsh, perhaps, but with a level of productivity like that why would future employers consider a candidate who hasn’t embraced AI collaboration?

Will AI Take Our Jobs?
Obviously, I think of AI as a boost for my creativity and efficiency. It is, right? 

Well, yes and no. Unless we’re an undertaker or a hairdresser, we’ll have to embrace the possibilities of AI, or yes we’ll get left behind. Proofreaders and translators, copywriters, video producers, graphic designers, audio editors, analysts… I do elements of all these jobs in my content marketing role and all jobs in the AI firing line. But is my job in the firing line? 

No. AI isn’t creative without the right promps and actions by a human agent. Ps Beta now has AI image generation built in, and it’s now part of the creative process. Digital artists are training on this in Universities around the world, right now. The likes of outpainting and process-driven AI image creation are a massive time saver, and now a part of the creative process. Augmenting imagery with AI is now normal and part of the job, but it still needs a creative operator – well, at least for now. As you can see from the above, I’m still pretty hands on. AI is not the creative in creative content marketing, it’s a means to an end.
We can’t afford to put our heads in the sand and ignore AI, and we need to make it a part of our day-to-day or, frankly, get a new career. Isn’t it a part of our jobs to be experimenting with new tools and mediums? In the future, AI will turn one creative person into a polymath, an individual into a team, and continue to be a fantastic collaborator for outstanding creative output. Embracing AI as a collaborator, now, means we’ll be a part of that future.

Let’s not get left behind.

If you’d like to follow up with me on this post, please grab me on Twitter (though I’m shadow tweeting these days), Threads (where I’m happily get my book geek on), or LinkedIn for a chat.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Staying Creative as a Content Marketer

A colleague suggested I write this, and it’s been percolating at the back of my brain, getting tickled by the bubbles of misfiring neurons, for the last seven days.

In the giddy world of content marketing, where engagement and innovation reign like Louis XIV, creativity isn't just a bonus; it's an essential part of the mix. As a content marketing “expert” – “ex” being the unknown quantity and “spert” being a drip under pressure - my job is to be thinking out of the box, tapping into new trends and thinking, immersing myself in a topic I usually have no knowledge about going in, and creating fresh content that resonates with a specific target audience. Originality at capacity is our bread and butter. How do I stay consistently creative - ahead of time, on spec, and under budget - in an always-evolving environment?


Well, I’m glad you asked.

Understanding the Importance of Creativity 


“Alexa, what is Creativity?”

“Creativity is the innate or cultivated ability to transcend traditional thinking, develop original ideas, and discover uncharted paths of expression and problem-solving. It is not confined to the arts but permeates all aspects of life, from scientific innovation to business strategies. Creativity involves connecting disparate ideas, thinking laterally, and taking risks to create something new and valuable. It's a dynamic and often unpredictable process that engages the mind, emotions, and spirit, transforming the way we see and interact with the world. Creativity is the spark that ignites innovation and breathes life into our everyday experiences.”

“Yeah, whatevs. Play Spotify.” 


Creativity pays the bills.

Strategies to Boost Creativity 

Always be Learning

Never stop trying new things. I’ve dabbled in podcasting, virtual worlds, VR, AR, AI, and so many other things before they made it to the mainstream because curiosity is important. 

I was an early Second Life adopter and joined Twitter and Facebook the day they went public. I was also a big user of Google Lively and a multiple Mayor on Foursquare. Some become useful, and some fall by the wayside. They do, however, stimulate ideas. 

I once won a New Statesman Award for the best green campaign by building trees in a virtual world, selling them in-world, and using the L$ to plant trees in meat-space, allowing people to carbon offset their virtual lives as Second Life hit the cultural zeitgeist. I was adding locations to the Niantic database when it was Ingress, meaning some of my retail clients suddenly found they were Pokémon Go hubs and were inundated with potential customers. I use AI in my work daily, and have been for nearly a year. Specialisation is for insects.

Always be playing. Always be experimenting. Always be learning. Always be curious. It stimulates ideas, and you never know what’s going to become useful. As long as you're green, you're growing. As soon as you're ripe, you start to rot. 

Invest in yourself and attend workshops and seminars. Visit trade shows. Learning from experts keeps things fresh. Seek out wisdom. Engaging with fellow creative minds nurtures your innovative spirit. Once a month, I Skype with my old colleagues from Conversify, Karen Woodward and Shelli Martineau (who are social media and creative content geniuses), and it's always inspiring - sometimes, we record it for the Bad Twin Podcast. I get together for virtual coffees with the content markers who are using AI at one of our agencies just to shoot the breeze after work and share prompt ideas.

Books on creativity, marketing, art, branding, psychology, graphic design, history, and even fiction can expand our thinking, and I've an ever-growing collection of eBay bargains that I sit upon like Smaug. Flicking through the pages, rubbing my chin like a veritable BookWyrm, when the creative fancy takes me.


Daily Creative Habits

Coffee first, then I head up to my office. 

Job número uno I scan my emails. I have our BDMs and sales engineers in the loop to provide me with content suggestions to support what they do. If they have a client or prospect with a specific content or usage case, that may be an excuse for a solution brief, an explainer video, or a new angle on a success story. A blog post, if nothing else. We’re part of the marketing team – never forget we’re there to support the sales process. You are not being paid to be creative without a business case for it. In the words of Capt. Jack Aubrey, “We do not have time for your damned hobbies, sir!” We’re not being paid to believe in the power of our dreams – if that’s your thing and you make a living from it, good on ya, but alas, that's rare, and I like a regular paycheck.


Once I’m happy nothing’s broken or needs my attention, and I’ve made a few notes of anything for action, I take the dogs out for a walk. Physical movement stimulates mental agility and creative thinking. I’m very lucky. I live in the spectacular Sperrins, the largest mountain range in Ireland, spanning some 40 miles. Regardless, the same stimulation existed when I lived in Leeds, Nottingham, Denver, Stockholm, or anywhere outside my home office. Not focusing on a pair of monitors eight inches from my nose is a must and gives fresh stimulus and time to mull ideas. I might see some cool signage, a Pine Martin, a tractor rally, talk to a neighbor, or I might just think of a different way to phrase something for clarity. I wouldn’t get that at my desk, and it’s all a catalyst for creativity. A few months ago, Alison in the Post Office complained to me about the effects of the cyberattack on the UK postal service, so home I went to write a guest post about the effect on rural communities for link-building. Subconscious processing during this 'incubation period' can lead to unexpected and innovative solutions.


When I return to my desk I usually make notes and put any thoughts in ink. I have a notebook worthy of a serial killer and the search history of a domestic terrorist. If your desktop doesn’t look like Verdun, do you even work in content marketing? Writing freely each morning can clear mental clutter and spark new ideas. It might not be relevant today, but in 6 months’ time, it could be the seed for an entire campaign or a white paper on whatever. My partner calls it “Dopermining,” but even when I watch TV in the evening, I hit Wikipedia or IMDB to “find out more.”


NB: ALWAYS write an idea down, or at least take a screen grab or leave the tab open. Nearly 30 years of doing this has taught me that I won’t remember it if I don’t, even if I think I will. Give the likes of Evernote a go.

Regarding moving, I also love a standing desk and have been using one for decades. This is my current setup:

Which brings me on to:


Building a Creative Workspace 

A sedentary body is a sedentary mind. Also, it’s bad for the waistline. 


I spend at least half the day upright at my desk, some of that getting my steps in with an under-desk treadmill, tapping away about all things cybersecurity. Standing lets me step back and gives me a different perspective. The rest of the time, I sit on an exercise ball. This means I don’t have to move the treadmill, and it’s great for posture, so I’m not bending over my keyboard like a croissant. I appreciate that not everyone can afford the luxury of a desk like this, but I began with a bit of DIY and a wireless keyboard. Get creative. This is how I started many moons ago, with a bit of spare pine bolted to an adjustable shelf.

If you don’t work from home, ask about a change in your environment come appraisal time. Agencies, especially, are often surprisingly amenable to the idea of a communal standing hot desk, and Ikea does some low-budget starter packages that won’t break the bank. During COVID we got a "home office payment," so I bought a secondhand Flexispot base from Facebook Marketplace and a bit bit of nice oak for esthetics, which I'm still using today. In total, it cost me about £250, but it is a REALLY nice bit of oak. The treadmill was partially bought with Amazon vouchers from some VO work I did for a friend.


Sometimes it’s good to take a step back. Surround yourself with colours, books, objects, and artwork that inspire you. Structure your space in a way that stimulates and doesn't stifle your thinking. If you can, have a view with a window nearby. Changing scenery or rearranging your workspace can shift your mental state and stimulate creativity. Yes, sometimes I do play with those action figures in work time.


While I’m working I listen to an eclectic array of music and podcasts. I even watch YouTube or BritBox (but nothing I have to concentrate on) on my iPad. Don’t limit yourself to your usual – try Nordic Folk, Polynesian Pop, Trance, Frank Zappa, Ganstergrass, or someone else's playlist made for running around a castle at midnight or selling your soul at the crossroads at midnight. Feel free to have a root through my playlists on Spotify. Staying in your comfort zone defeats the purpose.


Weekly Internals

Once a week we have a marketing dept. team call, and I solicit ideas and suggestions for gaps in our assets catalogue. I also ask for anything for our weekly internal newsletter (all the what’s new and fluff that’s good for LinkedIn sharing) that they’ve produced and invite contributions for proofreading and brand compliance, which all come under my remit. I also attend the big weekly sales pow-wow because nine times out of ten it stimulates an idea or another usage case, plus it keeps me on the sales team's radar. I can't create a conversation if I’m not a part of the conversation.


Regular collaboration with team members can ignite fresh ideas. Engaging with colleagues from different areas of the business can provide new perspectives. Figurative speaking, I'll turn up to the opening of an envelope if there might be a story in it.


Here's an infamous anecdote I’m paraphrasing from my old boss, Trevor, at Tank PR:


“I worked with a veteran PR guy who would sit in the loading bay at his company. He’d sit there every so often and just watch. Eventually, he’d spot something, like a pallet going to Zimbabwe or a special order going to New Zealand, and he’d have his story.”


Leveraging Technology for Creativity 

Platforms like MindMeister allow us to visually organise our ideas. Tools like Feedly can help us stay updated on the latest trends and inspiration. 

While not directly a creativity tools, Zapier or HeyData's automation of repetitive tasks can free up time and mental energy, allowing content marketers to focus more on the creative aspects of our work. Admittedly somewhat whimsical, if you're stuck for a blog or content ideas Portent generates suggestions based on keywords, often sparking inspiration for unique angles - especially for SEO content. While primarily a grammar-checking tool, the free version of Grammarly can also help in refining the tone and style of writing, aiding us brain-weary content monkeys in crafting compelling text – infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters. 

AI is fried-gold and, with the right input, can be brilliant in generating creative content and providing innovative ideas – see this post for more on that. 


There's a lot of good resources out there, and ten minutes on PinterestBehance, or 99Designs can get the creative juices flowing if you're looking for infographic ideas or new ways of displaying data.

The Creative Block

Even though professional work is driven by process and necessity, it can happen to the best of us. 


Recognise what might be causing the block and address it. This invariably involves introspection and some observation of my work habits and mental state. Considering factors like recent stressors, unrealistic expectations, fear of failure, fear of "the unknown" when you write a lot of technical content like I do, the need for stimulus, or even external distractions - any of these may be inhibiting our creativity. Reflecting on changes in our routine or environment, and assessing how we feel about the project itself, can often illuminate underlying issues that have led to staring at the screen for the last fifteen minutes. Sometimes this raises an inner tut, and I realize I'm just procrastinating and need to break a big task down into smaller tasks so that I can crack on.

Often, stepping away for a while can bring back creativity and give me a fresh angle. Trying painting, baking, new tools, online Dungeons and Dragons, or playing music can all unlock hidden creativity. New experiences and cultures provide a fresh perspective. 


The most surprising insights can come from unexpected places. I find that creativity often thrives in a non-linear way, and exploring new avenues can help us reconnect with our creative flow and find the spark we need to continue our project. Turning things around and considering new approaches is good practice: Take, for example, this video, where I embraced and highlighted the limitations rather than looking to create the standard case study assets.


Go for lunch with younger or older colleagues outside your departmental bubble. Brainstorm, or just chat. Sometimes, a fresh perspective from a workmate or friend can provide the spark needed to break through a creative impasse. Speak aloud to the dog; vocalisation is underrated. New ways of looking at things, and new insights, are all around us.


Putting too much pressure on yourself for the perfect idea can stifle creativity. Embrace a growth mindset, recognising that mistakes and imperfections are part of the creative process. There's plenty of opportunity to polish things later. Instead of fixating on a single solution, try to generate a multitude of ideas. Embrace thinking that doesn't follow a straight path and allow yourself to explore possibilities.

Techniques such as the Six Thinking Hats or SCAMPER can provide a structured approach to thinking creatively, guiding us through the different angles and aspects of a problem.


An old boss, Aliza, suggested mindfulness during one of our podcasts. She’s written books on the subject. Mindfulness practices can help clear mental clutter, allowing new ideas to surface. As a white Gen X male from Lancashire, I didn't consider the benefit until I was challenged to try it. Meditation, in whatever form makes us comfy, helps nurture a state of relaxed attention where our creativity can flourish. Stop. Clear your mind. Give ideas a chance.

Embrace The Creative Journey 


Staying creative as a content marketer isn't just about sudden sparks of brilliance. It's about cultivating an environment, both within and around you, that continuously nurtures and encourages creative thinking. Sometimes it’s about attitude – it’s not writing twenty FAQs for SEO; it’s a fresh crop of word puzzles that must be conquered. Whether adopting new daily habits, restructuring your workspace, collaborating with others, or embracing new tools, remember that creativity isn't a finite resource. It's a renewable energy that thrives on curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to experiment.


Sure, it’s work, but when I publish a piece of research I’m proud of or something of genuine value to our target audience and picked up for syndication, it feels like more than work. Embrace the wonderful chaos of professional creativity. Let it lead you down unexpected paths, open up new doors, and fill your content with the kind of humanized energy and originality that resonates with your audience. 


The road to inspiration is wide open, and it's ours to travel. Now I just have to practice what I preach.